Going out for dinner and enjoying delicious meals somebody else cooked for you is fun, but after a while, the novelty might wear off. So here are a few tips from the professionals to make cooking at home fun and easy!
Let’s start with some thoughts on kitchen equipment.
1. Equipment: Say No to one-trick ponies
There is no need to buy fancy gadgets that will only take up space in your kitchen (or ultimately in your attic). There are a few must-haves, and you will find out quickly which ones depending on the kind of dishes you make. A food-processor definitely falls into the must-have category while an egg boiler doesn’t so much.
2. Choose good quality
Use high-quality saucepans with thick bottoms. For health reasons, stay away from non-stick teflon-coated pots and frying pans; stainless steel will do just nicely!
3. Temperature tips
Never trust the built-in thermometer of your oven unless it is calibrated. The best would be to get a separate oven thermometer. If you can, buy one with temperatures shown in Fahrenheit and Celsuis to avoid having to convert them. This way, you can cook European and American recipes with ease.
4. Select good knives, keep them sharp and practice!
Use knives that are long enough for the tasks, and that have the right blade for it. You can try cutting a piece of raw meat with a salmon knife, but you will probably end up with blisters on your hands! Also, use them like a saw instead of pressing them down.
5. Read before cooking
Before even starting, read the recipe in full – preferably the day before in case something needs to be brought down to room temperature, soaked overnight or defrosted. Make sure you have all the ingredients and utensils needed.
6. Laying it all out
The “Mise en place” is a fancy French term for putting every ingredient of the recipe out on the counter. This makes sure that you have everything you need. You can already weigh the ingredients in separate bowls (cookery demo style) or do that as you go along. Mise en place also means that you heat the oven ahead of time if required and get the tools and utensils out that you’ll need. Keep your counter area clutter-free and clean for the food preparation, and put used ingredient packages away as you go along to make more space.
7. Make ahead – the lazy method
Once you are in the process of cooking, why not make more than you need and freeze it in portions that suit your household? Many cooked dishes freeze just beautifully, and imagine the joy when one day you don’t feel like cooking or don’ t have the time for it, you look into your freezer and pull out a delicious home-cooked meal! The same goes for most cakes, waffle batter and much more. Always remember to label and date what you freeze, and dig deep to use up those frozen goodies that have been in there for a while.
8. Seasoning: getting it right
Professional chefs know a little secret to seasoning: people love to season their food. It is a well-known fact that some people reach for the salt and pepper before even tasting the meal. If the chef had already salted the meal as normal, it might just be too much. There is also a technical reason for underspicing: It can be challenging to season food properly, because raw meat and other uncooked ingredients can’t be sampled ahead of time. Always remember that it is better to add more seasoning on the plate as diners will be likely to reach for the salt and pepper anyway, and to avoid that people with sensitive palates are spitting fire.
Cooking and frying can concentrate some flavours and dull others. The predominant flavours induced by salt and hot spices can get more pronounced due to evaporation. Herb flavours, on the other hand, can disappear altogether so it is a good idea to add them last.
Always taste the food at the end of the cooking process and adjust. If it got too hot (as in spicy hot), add either milk, cream or honey; if it got too salty, add a raw potato for a few minutes.
9. Use fresh herbs and take your meal to the next level!
If a recipe calls for fresh herbs or juices or zest, take fresh herbs or juices or zest. Don’t be tempted to reach for bottled lemon juice or dried, bought zest, they will destroy your lovingly cooked meal.
Fresh herbs can make all the difference. For example, mint leaves in a watermelon feta cheese salad will transform that simple salad into an amazing experience. Leaving them out because you don’t have them is almost a culinary sin. The good news is that herbs can be grown indoors and outdoors, in small pots on the windowsill or in your garden. It will save you money, trips down to the shop, and you’ll always have them handy.
Herbs are also a great decoration on the plate, or you can put them already washed and ready to use in little bowls on the table. Leafy stalks of parsley, coriander/cilantro and mint look pretty on the table when featured in small jars or glasses with a bit of water.
10. Presentation of the meal
It is not only our mouths and stomachs that process the food, but also our eyes. Even a one-pot-meal can be turned into a great dining experience by setting the table in a festive or playful manner. You can serve a salad with decoratively arranged leaves on each plate, with some vinaigrette drizzled over them in lines and herbs sprinkled on top – very fancy!
Another experience is to have different finishing ingredients in little bowls or on carving boards on the table. Everybody can add whatever they like to the basic meal. Great if you have people who don’t really know each other yet, because they will most likely have to talk to each other to get the condiments they want from the other side of the table!